Delivery of Dental Care To Older Patients with Physical Limitations

For most of us, a visit to the dentist is nothing more than a minor inconvenience. However, for older patients facing increased physical limitations, a dental appointment can become a harrowing ordeal or impossibility. People who have taken excellent care of their teeth and gums find that they can no longer do so.

It would be nice if the dentist could make an old-fashion house call, but because of the amount of equipment and supplies necessary to provide modern dentistry, this is prohibitively expensive. Mobile facilities exist, however getting a disabled patient in and out of one of these vans can be as difficult as in and out of an accessible office.

Older patients residing in retirement-nursing care facilities often have their dental care totally neglected. Most of these facilities ignore these needs and do not provide a dental operatory for in-house use. Dental hygienists are prohibited, unless specially licensed, from cleaning teeth without direct supervision by a dentist in every state but Colorado. It may shock you to learn that this effectively denies dental hygiene to most patients in extended care facilities.

Our oral health is not only important to us nutritionally, but also to our ability to communicate, and to our self-esteem. We eat, talk, laugh, and kiss with our mouths.

If you are concerned about your present and future access to oral health care, or that of a loved one, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Make sure your dentist's office is wheelchair accessible.
  2. Ask your dentist and staff if they are willing to take the extra time and care it may require to treat an older patient with physical limitations.
  3. Inquire if your dentist feels confidant treating older patients who may be on multiple medications, with the correlating problems of drug interactions and side-effects.
  4. Insist that residential/nursing facilities provide the basic facilities for dental care, so that a dentist, and/or hygienist can come in regularly to examine and treat patients.
  5. Write your state legislator to allow hygienists to practice in nursing homes.

Dr. Jack Lester D.D.S. practices dentistry in San Francisco, specializing in geriatric patients and patients with disabilities. His telephone number is (415) 362-4373.

Best Dental Insurance Services
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